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Monday, November 16, 2015

Evolution of Fort Laramie

Like more than one fort in this country’s history, Fort Laramie in Wyoming did not start out as a military installation. Yet, because of its location, it was one of the longest lasting forts in the eastern Wyoming frontier. Here is a brief timeline for this fort.
Frontier Trading Post

1815 or 1816 – Jacques La Ramee and a small group of fellow trappers settled in the area where Fort Laramie would later be located. He went out alone to trap in 1819 or 1820 and was never seen again. Arapaho Indians were blamed for killing La Ramie and putting his body in a beaver dam. The river was named “Laramie” in his honor.

Interior of the original Fort Laramie as it looked prior to 1840. Painting from memory by Alfred Jacob Miller.

1833-1834 – A private fur trading post was founded by William Sublette after he recovered from the wounds received after the 1832 Rendezvous in the Battle of Pierre’s Hole. He named it Fort William after his first name. The post was near the junction of two rivers, the Laramie and the North Platte, allowing the fort to command of a broad plain with water on two sides forming a partial natural moat. The nearby two smaller, safer, noticeably more shallow streams could be crossed without bridges making the location convenient to travelers. Along with Bent's Fort on the Arkansas River, the trading post and its supporting industries and businesses provided the most significant hub for commerce in the region. It sat at the bottom of the long climb leading to the best and lowest crossing point at South Pass, the easiest route to travel over the Continental Divide. It became a primary stopping point on the Oregon Trail, laid by fur trappers and traders from about 1811 to 1840 and was only passable on foot or by horseback.

The first Fort Laramie as it looked prior to 1840. Painting from memory by Alfred Jacob Miller

1836 - When the first migrant wagon train was organized in Independence, Missouri, a wagon trail had been cleared to Fort Hall, Idaho. As wagon trails were cleared further west, eventually reaching all the way to the Willamette Valley in Oregon, the fort became important as a stopping and resupply place for travelers.

1841 – The fort was purchased by a partner in the American Fur Company. It was later named Fort John after the purchasing partner, John B. Sarpy. Fort John (Fort Laramie) was originally built of logs in 1841.

Frontier army post

1849 – The fort was again purchased from Bruce Husband, a member of the American Fur Company, for $4,000 in June 1849 by U.S. Army Lt. Woodberry. Its operations were taken over by the United States Army to protect the wagon trains on the Oregon Trail, and also the northern emigrant trails which split off further west such as the California and Mormon trails. The name Fort Laramie came into gradual use, likely as a convenient shortening of "Fort John at the Laramie River." Three companies of cavalry arrived at the fort that same month, and Company ‘G’, 6th Infantry, which was the post’s permanent garrison for many years, arrived on August 12, 1849.

A photo of Fort Laramie in 1858
1858 - Gold was discovered at Cherry Creek near Denver, prompting the Colorado gold rush. Fort Laramie became one of these miners' major connections to the world back East.

1860 – Reference to Fort John disappeared from records after it fell into disuse following the military takeover of the Fort.

1861-65 - With the outbreak of the Civil War, the troops at Fort Laramie were withdrawn to fight in the east. A series of volunteer regiments arrived at Fort Laramie to replace them, including the “Galvanized Yankees” (Confederate prisoners of war recruited in the Union Army) and the 11th Ohio
John "Portuguese" Phillips

December 25, 1866 -  John "Portuguese" Phillips rode into Fort Laramie after riding 236 miles through hostile Indian country during blizzard conditions from Fort Phil Kearney to report Lt. William J. Fetterman's entire unit had been killed in a fight with the Sioux under Red Cloud.  Phillips was sent to summon help for Fort Phil Kearny.

Late 1860s - The fort was the primary staging ground for the United States during Red Cloud’s War.

April 29, 1868  – The second Treaty of Fort Laramie ended Red Cloud’s War and resulted in a peace agreement. The agreement between the United States and the Oglala, Miniconjou, and Brulé bands of Lakota people, Yanktonai Dakota, and Arapaho Nation guaranteeing to the Lakota ownership of the Black Hills, and further land and hunting rights in South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana. The Powder River Country was to be henceforth closed to all whites.
1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie meeting

May 10, 1869 - After the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, the fort's importance gradually decreased as fewer wagon trains traveled west and most Indian tribes in the area had been pacified by the recent treaty.

1876-77 - Great Sioux War: The discovery of gold in the Black Hills touched off another period of conflict with the Lakota and Northern Cheyenne. Fort Laramie served as a major staging point for supplies and troops.

March 1877 - The last known death near the fort due to Indian hostilities occurred in on the Big Bitter Cottonwood Creek.

1889 – After a decade of minimal use, the U.S government decided the fort no longer served a military purpose. The original abandonment order for Fort Laramie was issued.

Circa 1880 Unidentified officers at Fort Laramie

March 1890 – Fort Laramie was decommissioned and the last soldiers left. Four of the infantry companies stationed there at that time went to Fort Logan near Denver, Colorado. About 30 cavalry soldiers and civilian mechanics under the command of Lt. C. W. Taylor arrived at the fort and removed any materials from the buildings they though the government could use elsewhere.

April 20, 1890 - All but one of the structures were sold at auction to private citizens.

October 5, 1891 – The former land that had made up Fort Laramie was opened up to homesteaders for settlement.

In 1873, this fort was the part of the world where Sgt. Isaiah Jenkins in the Christmas romance A Christmas Promise had been stationed for years. It was before the war with the Sioux in 1876-77, but he had been at the fort when John “Portugee” Phillips had ridden in asking for help for Fort Phil Kearney. He knew about Lt. Fetterman, how he had disobeyed a direct order by his commanding officer and, as a consequence, gotten himself and 80 of his men killed by the Sioux. And, he had an opinion about how the Army was handling the Sioux and Cheyenne question which he had shared with Annie. After almost 20 years of enlistment, he was ready to get out and start a family.


Zina Abbott is the pen name used by Robyn Echols for her historical novels. Her novel, Family Secrets, was published by Fire Star Press. Her novelette, AChristmas Promise, along with the first two novellas in the Eastern Sierra Brides 1884 series, Big Meadows Valentine and A Resurrected Heart, was published by Prairie Rose Publications.

The author is a member of Women Writing the West, American Night Writers Association, and Modesto Writers Meet Up. She currently lives with her husband in California near the “Gateway to Yosemite.” She enjoys any kind of history including family history. When she is not piecing together novel plots, she pieces together quilt blocks.

Please visit and follow the Zina Abbott’s Amazon Author Page by clicking HERE.

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  1. Thank you. Love the history. Those early 'business' forts have such great stories. Fort Laramie went on to even more. Doris McCraw/Angela Raines-author.

    1. Thank you, Doris. Of course, books have been written about this fort. What I failed to mention in the article was one reason several of the other forts were so short-lived was the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty giving certain lands back to the native tribes. Fort Phil Sherman was decommissioned and the Sioux gleefully destroyed it because of this treaty. Fort C.F. Smith just across the border into Montana was also decommissioned.

  2. Very interesting post. It is amazing how times have changed from what life was like back then to now.

  3. A fascinating account of the development of a fort. Thanks Zina!!

    1. Thank you , Kristy. This fort has held my interest for quite some time, I guess because I knew some of my ancestors stopped there on their way west.

  4. Such a great blog, "Zina". I enjoyed this history of Fort Laramie and all those terrific pictures you posted with it.
    All the best to your corner of the universe.